By Craig Loehle
Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #2 (English)
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, US
March 25-27, 1994.
Presented Saturday, 17:00-17:45
Parables are a traditional vehicle of communication in revelatory writing, exemplified most clearly in the parables of Jesus. The advantage of a parable is that one draws out its meaning as a consequence of a concrete story which the reader can identify with, rather than by trying to grasp an abstraction. On the surface, the Bahá'í revelation does not seem to be dominated by parables. While the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys is metaphorical and much mystic language is used in the Bahá'í revelation, much of the language is straightforward. It is suggested that parables may be found to actually occupy a central role In the form of the history of the Faith. A parable is a story told as if it were true in order to convey a particular truth. In the Bahá'í revelation, the stories told are actually and in fact true, but convey spiritual meanings in exactly the same way as traditional parables. In this sense they may be compared directly with the stories in the Old Testament, such as those of Noah and Jonah, except that these old stories are not demonstrably true, whereas those in Bahá'í history are.
One of the dominant parables running throughout Bahá'í history is the parable of the prison. Never before in religious history have prisons played such a central role. It was in the Black Pit that the Maid of Heaven appeared to Bahá'u'lláh. The gaolers of the Báb became His followers. Bahá'u'lláh entered the prison city of Akka in chains and ignomy, but ended His life in evident victory at Bahji. In every case, imprisonment was turned into victory, demonstrating the quality of God's Dominion. We can see clearly that even the great empires who conspired to stop His cause were powerless to do so, From this we may draw the inference that He will also assist His cause today. These stories are also a metaphor for our own imprisonment within our society, within our limitations, within our lack of willpower, and reveal to us the power that alone can free us.
Other parables include the parable of the journey, the parable of the search, and others. Journeys play a central role in Baháíí history, including the pilgrims who walked to Akka and those such as Salman who undertook journeys for Bahá'u'lláh. These journeys play out in real circumstances the metaphorical journey that Bahá'u'lláh describes in the Seven Valleys.
Overall, this essay describes the nature of parables and relates those in Bahá'í history and their meanings.
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